Young Farmers Surprised by Berks Honor

7/20/2013 7:00 AM
By Teresa McMinn Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

RICHLAND, Pa. — At age 28, Jonathan Bicksler said he never dreamed his young family would be recognized for its farm work.

But young farmers are hard to find, he said.

Bicksler, his wife, Tiffany, and their children Maya, 8, Brooke, 6, and Elijah, 3, operate Wheelcrest Partners farm in Tulpehocken Township, Berks County, Pa., where they grow hundreds of acres of crops including corn, soybeans, hay, wheat and barley.

The family also raises dairy Holsteins and sells milk to Clover Farms.

Jonathan Bicksler’s parents, Floyd and Linda Bicksler, live nearby and are partners in the family business, which rents land from Dorothy Bicksler — Jonathan Bicksler’s great aunt.

Recently, the Bickslers were named 2013 Berks County Outstanding Farm Family — an award sponsored by the Reading Fair and Berks County Pomona Grange.

Jonathan Bicksler’s older sister, Melanie Younker, and her husband, Steve, were given the award last year.

“It’s an honor to be selected into an elite fraternity,” Jonathan Bicksler said, adding that four generations of his family helped build the farm. “It’s my whole life. I grew up here.”

Wheelcrest is named to honor Jonathan Bicksler’s great uncle — and Dorothy Bicksler’s late husband — Gerald Bicksler.

“My dad’s uncle, they used to call him Wheels’ because he was always going,” Jonathan Bicksler said. Gerald Bicksler “started with nothing, now we have valuable assets. ... We’re very fortunate.”

Gerald Bicksler began the farm by raising pigs, then converted to a dairy operation in the early 1970s. To make ends meet, he also drove a truck and collected milk cans.

Jonathan and Tiffany Bicksler started farming in 2007 in Lancaster County, Pa., before they moved to back home to help with the family farm after Gerald Bicksler died.

Today, their children are active helpers on the farm and do chores such as cleaning the cows and barns.

“We are members” of Marion Grange No. 1853, Tiffany Bicksler said. “The kids are active members.”

Additionally, Maya is active with the local 4-H group.

“It means a lot to me,” Maya said of the organization. “It’s a way for me to learn more about farming.”

Brooke recently served as the Berks County Li’l Miss Dairy Princess.

And Elijah is “pretty self-motivated” for a 3-year-old, his dad said.

Jonathan Bicksler said his workday on the farm begins around 5 a.m., includes milking and feeding the cows and ends about 7:30 p.m.

He said his mother also helps watch the children and mows grass.

“She ties up the loose ends,” he said of Linda Bicksler.

The family is also “slowly renovating” a barn on the farm, he said.

Finding good help is one of the hard tasks in operating the farm, Jonathan Bicksler said.

“Labor is a challenge,” he said.

At the same time, it’s rewarding to continue his family’s legacy, Jonathan Bicksler said.

“I’m extremely grateful for my family giving us an opportunity like this,” he said.

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